Details from Investigation into Deaths at St. Basil’s Home for the Aged

November 18, 2021

MELBOURNE – Details concerning the conditions at St. Basil’s Home for the Aged in Fawkner, Australia, during the deadly COVID-19 outbreak last year were revealed in leaked documents from the police investigation, WA Today reported on November 15.

“Conditions had become so horrific at St Basil’s… during its deadly COVID-19 outbreak last year that some residents tried to bash down the center’s front door to escape the disarray and find food, former staff have told State Coroner John Cain,” WA Today reported.

“Leaked documents from the police investigation, seen by The Age, provide graphic new details of the disaster that unfolded inside the Greek Orthodox Church-run home, and the chaos that ensued once a federally funded ‘surge’ workforce entered it,” WA Today reported, adding that “one site report compiled at the height of the outbreak in July 2020 found there was ‘no physical distancing [among temporary staff] … clinical waste bags lying in corridors, piled up in corridors, in residents’ rooms (left open), multiple dirty meal trays lying around [the] facility.’”

“A senior Northern Hospital doctor, Sandra Brown, whose team visited during this period, warned of ‘residents starving to death and dying of dehydration from basic care needs not being met,’” WA Today reported, noting that “a personal care assistant at the home later told police: ‘There was a male resident smashing the front door trying to get out … He was screaming about food. He was saying he was hungry.’”

“A separate state Health Department report said the resident was ‘trying to smash glass front doors, threatening to kill everyone if not let out,’” WA Today reported, adding that “the resident was later transferred to hospital.”

“The police documents reveal the federal government’s Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission learnt of the St. Basil’s outbreak on July 10, 2020, but did nothing for another four days,” WA Today reported, noting that “there were 117 residents at St. Basil’s and 120 staff when the outbreak began, but the failure to contain it meant only 49 people who lived or worked there avoided a COVID-19 infection,” and “forty-five residents, with an average age of 85, died of COVID-19.”

“Judge Cain on Monday [November 22] begins a six-week inquest into Australia’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak, which took place over one month beginning in July last year,” WA Today reported, adding that “Christine Golding, whose mother, Efraxia, 84, died after contracting COVID-19 at St. Basil’s, will appear as the opening witness.”

Golding told WA Today that “she wanted the ‘true story of what happened to my mother’ to emerge: ‘Why she caught COVID-19, why she was neglected, why she suffered and why she died.’”

“Police reports compiled for the inquest show residents who survived St. Basil’s and were evacuated to hospitals were found by medical staff to be ‘dehydrated, malnourished … and in very poor general health,’” WA Today reported, noting that “one senior nurse brought in to help at the height of the outbreak was shocked to find St. Basil’s 24-bed dementia ward unattended by a single staff member.”

“The report also shows management at the home spent just $6950 on personal protective equipment for staff between January and July 2020,” WA Today reported, adding that “by comparison, the operator of a group of aged care homes where there were no coronavirus cases – also located in Melbourne’s north and north-west, where outbreaks were rampant last year – spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on PPE.”

“In 2019, before the outbreak, St. Basil’s had been given the highest quality rating by the Aged Care Safety and Quality Commission, and St. Basil’s management passed their own self-assessment of COVID-19 readiness in April 2020,” WA Today reported, noting that “in June 2020, a state Health Department infection-prevention team visited and was also ‘quite positive’ about the home’s preparations.”

One care worker, however, “told police this was an illusion,” and “the week before [one visit], the outbreak staff were running around putting up signs and posters about social distancing, handwashing. Trolleys were stacked with extra PPE, with things like hand sanitizer and gowns, which were seldom on the trolleys. It was all fake, and only done when the commission came to inspect,” WA Today reported.

“The police documents show a staff member was the ‘index case’ who brought the virus into the home in early July,” WA Today reported, adding that “the personal care assistant worked for four days while her family members had sore throats.”

“That staff member, whose name has been suppressed by the Coroners Court, was sent home after a relative tested positive, but few of her colleagues were told why she was sent home,” WA Today reported, noting that “some staff she worked with were still coming to work three days later.”

St. Basil’s chairman Kon Kontis “has so far declined to talk to police about what unfolded at the home, relying on a section of the Coroners Act that provides protection against self-incrimination,” WA Today reported, adding that “Kontis and Vicky Kos, the head of nursing when the outbreak unfolded, are to appear before the Coroner on the final days of the hearings.”

“Kontis told Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton in mid-July last year that the church should keep control of the home, which the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese has run at the Fawkner site since 1991,” WA Today reported, noting that “when the Andrews government wrested control of the facility from the church and handed it to the federal Department of Health to manage, the ‘surge’ nursing staff sent in to care for residents were met with a home in disarray.”

“Heleni Bagiartakis, a senior manager from another Greek nursing home who tried to help at St. Basil’s, told investigating police that from there, it went ‘from crisis to crisis,’” WA today reported, adding that “after attending for one day, ‘a number of staff refused to attend. They simply did not show up.’”

“Private medical provider Aspen Medical, the company the Morrison government contracted to supply staff, could not secure enough experienced workers,” WA Today reported, noting that “a nurse from the company told police that some care assistants ‘didn’t know how to shower residents, as they had been previously employed in community care to do housekeeping and shopping.’”

“Communication between St. Basil’s and worried families also broke down during the outbreak,” WA Today reported, adding that “a call center set up by the federal Health Department to update relatives often gave wrong information.”

“One resident, Theodoula Andreou, was taken from St. Basil’s to Glenferrie Hospital,” and “a doctor from the hospital phoned Ms. Andreou’s daughter-in-law and said the 85-year-old barely had a pulse and was dehydrated,” WA Today reported, noting that “during this phone conversation, the daughter-in-law missed a call from the Health Department call center, which later called back and told her ‘that Theodoula was in her room [at St. Basil’s] and doing well.’ Ms. Andreou died that day at Glenferrie Hospital.”

“On July 21 last year, the day the first resident at the home died with coronavirus, reports show St. Basil’s management, federal and state health department officials and Canberra’s aged care regulator arguing over who would run the center,” WA Today reported, adding that “after being ordered out by Professor Sutton, St. Basil’s management left the center entirely and declined to provide further help.”

“The police brief says that, on July 22, contractors were forced to visit the home to program new security access cards because ‘St. Basil’s management would not leave their own cards for incoming staff,’” and “the fire brigade had to be called to force locks to let residents back into rooms because ‘there was no master key,’” WA Today reported.

“A senior nurse from another Greek nursing home, Fronditha, who had offered to help, was told by Ms. Kos that ‘under no circumstances was [she] or any other member of St. Basil’s to be contacted about the clinical care of the residents’ once they left,” WA Today reported, noting that “the nurse told investigators Ms. Kos had assured them ‘everything we needed was on the files,’ but ‘we very quickly found that was not accurate.’”



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